F-16s Head South

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Heather Skinkle
  • 451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public
Over a period of 10 days in February 2012, the A-10 Thunderbolt II tails based at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan switched places with the F-16 Fighting Falcon tails based at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Such movement of a wing's personnel, equipment, and aircraft to another airfield is called a close-air support reset.

"This movement postures close-air support to best support the campaign plans in the long and short term," said Col. Kevin Blanchard, 451st Air Expeditionary Wing vice commander. "The reset should provide the regional commanders the best air assets for the environment and operations each commander will encounter."

Though the CAS reset went smoothly, there were some unique challenges.

"Moving personnel and cargo is something we do every day, but with the reset starting mid-rotation coupled with only a three-month planning phase, plus building up certain F-16 airfield requirements at Kandahar Airfield, we had to go above and beyond," said Lt. Col. Thomas "TShane" Nicholson, 451st Air Expeditionary Wing chief of plans.

First, deployed and home station units folded integral personnel into working groups to plan for this colossal movement, said Nicholson. Developing a time line, holding several video teleconferences, and conducting site surveys for Bagram Airfield and Kandahar Airfield were just a few things done to prep for the reset, he said.

"Our goal during the planning phase was to accomplish this CAS reset with minimal impact to the air tasking order," Nicholson said.

That particular goal was deftly accomplished when all U.S. Air Force components came together in a superb example of how a one-team, one-fight mentality overcame obstacles while maintaining air superiority.

"We are still settling in, but with the phenomenal professionalism of our people, who've had more than eight combat deployments, we haven't missed a single ATO," said Major Trenton Twedt, 451st Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and F-16 Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge deployed from the 132nd Fighter Wing, Des Moines, Iowa. "Some of our maintainers and pilots have worked with this airframe for more than 15 years."

Keeping jets in the air required looking to the ground for proper F-16 airfield conditions. The CAS reset team worked with Kandahar Airfield management officials to establish standard operating procedures and make airfield alterations.

"An indicator of a strong unit is setting high standards and SOPs for people to follow," said Chief Master Sgt. Russell Starmer, 451st EAMXS chief in charge. "I'm proud that we can leave a legacy for our successors."

SOPs won't be the only evidence of the F-16's move to Kandahar. Airfield support upgrades, two full-time sweepers and three new sweeping machines are a must to mitigate foreign object damage and maintain the F-16's mission capability. Additional FOD procedures, such as expanding flight line perimeters and increased FOD checks, were also enacted. Another necessity for the airfield is a trim pad, a vital F-16 airfield component that can accommodate 100,000 pounds of engine thrust and is used for strapping aircraft down for engine checks.

"We are using the Marines' trim pad because the one being built for us won't be ready for a while," said Tech. Sgt. Jed Holl, 451st EAMXS crew chief.

The plan may have accounted for logistical requirements but sometimes Mother Nature can mislay the best of plans.

The 451st Expeditionary Logistical Readiness Squadron had to quickly adapt to shifting weather while moving 550 personnel and 275 cargo increments over the course of the reset, said Tech. Sgt. Chad Molenhour, the noncommissioned officer in charge of logistics plans.

While the sheer numbers and intricacies of this reset could overwhelm some, members stayed focused on the bottom line.

"We are here to support the ground commanders, and hopefully with no friendly losses or collateral damage," said Maj. Aleksander Lied, 451st Expeditionary Operations Squadron operations officer deployed from the 124 Expeditionary Fighter Squadron under the 132nd FW. "In doing so, we would've effectively accomplished our mission."